Padua: Palazzo della Ragione

A few days ago I was in Padua, and I visited the Palazzo della Ragione, that was discussed by Ross and others on ATF.

I have collected some information about the XV century astrological fresco cycle that covers more than 1,000 square meters of the inner walls of the palace. Apparently, the overall design of the cycle was inspired by the Paduan astronomer Pietro d'Abano.
A few links to good information I found on the web:
The temple of astrology: a good description of the cycle, in English

Images of the astrological signs, personifications of the months and planetary gods

An excellent image of the “Papesse”

More good photographs of single images

The frescos are divided in 12 sections, each corresponding to one month and one astrological sign. I attach a description of Aries / March.
In detail, the areas I have marked with letters correspond to:

A. Last three images of Pisces/February. At the bottom there is the “Papesse” that attracted the attention of Ross.
B. Top row of Aries / March. The top row represents “paranatellonta”, i.e. constellations that do not designate an astrological sign, or single stars.
C. Personification of the month (March, in this case, is personified by a man blowing two horns, possibly with a references to the winds of March)
D. An image representing the astrological sign (Aries)
E. The planetary god ruling the sign (Mars, holding a sword and a castle)
F. One of the twelve apostles (St. James the Greater, according to the audio guide).
G. First images of Taurus / April.

Most sources seem to suggest that the images in the lowest and middle rows represent the influences of the sign (like in the “children of the planets”). I am not sure this is all there is to say, because the bottom row often includes winged figures that do not seem to me to be compatible with a “children of the planets” theme. Below the three rows of astrological images, there are other frescos, many of which are more ancient than the astrological cycle: e.g. the eagle in the image was the symbol of a specific tribunal. The lions of St. Marc were added after that Padua was conquered by Venice (1405).

Re: Padua: Palazzo della Ragione

Hello Pen,
I am glad you find the Palazzo interesting. I was really surprised to see such a huge Temple of Astrology. That definition is a good one. For instance, the entrance to the Palace, that in a church would have been decorated with a representation of Christ or of the Virgin, presents the image of an astronomer with his books and tools (since the first word of the inscription is Petrus, I guess this is Pietro d'Abano).
It is incredible to think that a divination system had such an importance. Since it was an a-scientific system, it seems to me to almost be a parallel religion.


PS: I found on google books the complete text of the inscription: "Petrus Apponus Pat. Philosophiae Medicinaeque scientissimus. Ob idque Conciliatoris cognomen adeptus. Astrologiae vero adeo peritus, vt in Magiae suspicionem inciderit, falsoque de Heresi postulatus, absolutus fuit." Pietro d'Abano from Padua, very learned in philosophy and medicine. For this reason he received the appellation of "Conciliator". He was so expert in astrology, that he was suspected of magic, and falsely accused of heresy: he was absolved.

Pietro is also represented in the frescos.

Re: Padua: Palazzo della Ragione

Hello Marco,

The appellation 'Temple of Astrology' struck me too, especially when watching the video on the link you posted. It seems as though the narrator is suggesting that the huge space with its images worked in some way like a 'machine' or calculator for some astrological purpose, and it's not difficult to believe in this possibility.

You wrote:
Pietro d'Abano from Padua, very learned in philosophy and medicine. For this reason he received the appellation of "Conciliator". He was so expert in astrology, that he was suspected of magic, and falsely accused of heresy: he was absolved.
I take it that the meaning of 'Conciliator' in this instance must be that of one between the two disiplines. I wonder how frequently it was awarded.

The last sentence of the quote above re. magic seems extraordinary, given that astrology was thought of as a science. Those were dangerous times.

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...

Re: Padua: Palazzo della Ragione

Pen wrote: The last sentence of the quote above re. magic seems extraordinary, given that astrology was thought of as a science. Those were dangerous times.
Yes, those were dangerous times. But at those times people knew that science can be evil. Our technocracy does not burn heretics, but asserts that nuclear power, genetically modified organisms, the chemical cure of sadness or impotence are good things. In my opinion, these times are not less dangerous (but the dangers are different :) ).

I made a few investigations in libraries about the Palazzo della Ragione aka Salone.
I found a book by Fritz Saxl (“La fede negli astri”, 1985) that contains an essay about the Padova frescos. Saxl only treats the subjects in the top row, explaining how they where derived from the Astrolabium Planum by Pietro d'Abano / Johann Engel. Saxl presents more than twenty examples of very good matches between the top row of the frescos and the Astrolabium. For the other two rows, he says that they represents the children of the planets and occupations typical of the month: he quotes Barzon (“I cieli e la loro influenza negli affreschi del Salone di Padova”, “Gli affreschi del Salone in Padova: guida illustrativa”, both 1924) and says that his explanation for the two lower rows is satisfactory.

I also consulted Barzon (I only found the less relevant book, “Gli affreschi del Salone in Padova: guida illustrativa”). The copy I consulted contained three postcards that someone, possibly the original owner, inserted in the book. In the postcard, the ritual benediction (i.e. the pseudo-Papesse) still has a gothic frame (like those that appear in the paintings of the top row), but in the book the frame is gone. So, we can conclude that the frames where removed a little before 1924. I assume they had been added in 1776, by one Zanoni, whose intervention, according to Barzon, consisted in adding ornaments, without interfering with the figures.

Barzon assigns the ritual benediction to Aries / March (whereas the current audio guide in the Palazzo della Ragione assigns that scene to Pisces). He connects the reddish / violet garments of the bishop to Lent. Barzon thought that the bishop held in his right hand some bread, that was the object of the benediction. Today, the fresco is well readable, and it is clear that the bishop is not holding anything.

Barzon notes the presence of winged figures in the lower two rows. He writes that “here and there there are some winged figures”. Anyway, he does not give any systematic explanation of these images, that in my opinion would deserve more attention. There is about a winged figure for each month. Barzon describes them as “winds” when the figure seems to be flying, a “love genius” (for a winged figure holding a burning torch in the sign of Taurus, ruled by Venus), an “angel of religion” in Aries (below C and D in the first image a posted), a “naked genius” washing his hands in Cancer (attached).

I must say I am not completely satisfied of this search. Possibly in the future I will find some more recent book giving a more extensive and more convincing explanation. But, for the time being, I guess I will stop here.
Genius in the Sign of Cancer - Palazzo della Ragione - Padova
genius2.jpg (44.22 KiB) Viewed 7465 times

Re: Padua: Palazzo della Ragione

The Decans are fascinating - there's a list with descriptions of each from three sources (Ibn Ezra, Picatrix and Agrippa) here:

I was particularly struck by Agrippa's description of the first decan of Leo, which not only matches one of the very small images in the Triompho di Fortuna, but also one of the images in Ripa's Iconologia 1603.

Agrippa: A man riding on a lion; it signifieth boldness, violence, cruelty, wickedness, lust and labours to be sustained.

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...

Re: Padua: Palazzo della Ragione

I agree: the decans are a very interesting subject. Those images are extremely ancients, moreover, they were corrupted in strange ways during the centuries and through the translations from Egyptian to Greek to Arabic to Latin. I would say that this particular image (a man riding on a lion) has an astrological origin, and was only later read as an allegory of strength. But of course, as Agrippa underlines, the meaning of strength was already present in the astrological image.

Just to add alchemy to the themes connected to the Palazzo della Ragione, I was wondering if the two putti below the sculpture representing Pietro d'Abano could allude to his activity as an alchemist. That image seems rather peculiar to me. After all, an alchemist appears in one of the frescos (as well as a magician).
putti.jpg (25.28 KiB) Viewed 7456 times

Re: Padua: Palazzo della Ragione

It's difficult to see the detail - whether the putti are holding the handles of an alchemical flask - they could almost be snakes, although that does seem far-fetched. I love the way all these references cross and mingle.

Re. the astrological image of the man riding a lion being the oldest we know, it seems that myth (and maybe even history itself) is like an ever-branching tree or a game of Chinese Whispers, with succeeding images and narratives changing subtly over time and space so that, in the case of Strength/Fortitude, Samson, Hercules, Lysmimachus, the First Decan of Leo et al are twigs on a single branch of pan-allegorical evolution...


Edited to fix mixed metaphors... (%)
He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests